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How inaugural PWHL New York roster was built from GM Pascal Daoust’s vision

Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Pascal Daoust did not have much of a runway before building a roster for the PWHL franchise in New York. Then again, New York’s first general manager didn’t have an office yet nor much of anything outside of his cell phone when hired two days before the start of free agency.

But Daoust knew what he was looking for.

“To me, most important was what type of person we wanted, and then what kind of player,” Daoust told Sportsnaut. “You need to have the right people in place, players and staff, to create the right culture with the right values. Those first people you bring in are the first stones to build a solid base. You can’t create something solid and sustainable if you’re not working together.”

So, on Sept. 1, 48 hours after being hired, the former GM of Val-d’Or in the QMJHL set out negotiating with free agents. Several days later, U.S. forwards Alex Carpenter and Abby Roque and Canadian defenseman Micah Zandee-Hart became the first players in franchise history to sign contracts. Two weeks later, Howie Draper was introduced as coach.

The common thread is each fervently believes in Daoust’s vision of culture and values being the driving force behind New York’s roster.

“One of the things that came up was that in their team building, it was more important who you are as a person,” Carpenter explained. “Obviously, it’s important to be a good hockey player, as well. But what he said was a big selling point to me, building this team with awesome people and great hockey players. And it starts with Pascal and Howie.”

Signing decorated Olympian was important first step for New York

Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Signing Carpenter was an important first step for Daoust. Highly respected for an outstanding international career that includes two silver medals in the Winter Olympics (2014, 2022) and six golds at the Women’s World Championship, it’s imperative that such a key player shares the vision of team management.

This holds true for the coach, as well. And Draper couldn’t be more excited about what Daoust is building in New York.

“Everything Pascal said was keeping in line with my values, my philosophies. I found that exciting,” Draper told Sportsnaut. “I’ve learned a lot about what a positive culture looks like (winning eight national women’s championships in 26 seasons as coach with the University of Alberta) and what integral positive values are. So, seeing the person first before you see the athlete. That’s very big for me.”

The original building blocks in place, Daoust turned to Carpenter, Roque and Zandee-Hart for their input on players they’d like to have as teammates ahead of the Sept. 18 PWHL Draft and remainder of free agency. He also wanted them and Draper to be the standard bearers for what’s being built in New York.

“It was important that our three free agents and my head coach were our greatest ambassadors of our values, so that the culture can exist and grow,” Daoust explained. “I wanted their input to find the best people.”

New York added Canadian Olympic medalist Jill Saulnier, highly-regarded defensemen Jaime Bourbonnais, Ella Shelton and Brooke Hobson, and high-scoring forward Jessie Eldridge. Premier Hockey Federation stars Emma Woods, Elizabeth Giguere, Jade Downie-Landry and Madison Packer signed with New York. Abbey Levy, who helped the United States win a gold medal at the 2023 Women’s World Championship, was brought in to share the net with Corrinne Schroeder, who was an outstanding 19-1-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and .955 save percentage as a rookie with the Boston Pride in the PHF last season.

Serious talent. And seriously good people.

“As we all started to get drafted and signed, you could feel that buzz around this new New York team,” Saulnier said. “When I got drafted (No. 40 overall), I just smiled to think I was going to be around this group of women who are just so incredible. I also am a person who chases and tries to surround myself with the best people in the world, and I knew I was jumping into an amazing group of people here.”

New York preparing for PWHL opener

Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Opening day is still two weeks away. New York plays at Toronto in the first-ever PWHL game on New Year’s Day. But training camp has gone well and New York won each of its three preseason scrimmages at the PWHL Evaluation Camp in Utica, New York, in early December.

Eldridge pointed out that the trip to Utica was as important for the team bonding that took place on the road as it was for the perfect record or her league-high six points (three goals, three assists).

“It’s a startup league so everyone’s trying to build their teams a certain way, everyone’s trying to build the best team on the ice,” Eldridge shared with Sportsnaut. “But for me, I’m a big believer that starts in the locker room and everything we do away from the rink. My conversations with Pascal and Howie have aligned really well with my beliefs. Every team I’ve been on that’s had success has jelled away from the rink. I think, especially in the women’s game, that camaraderie is huge and will pay off on the ice, too.”

Four of the Original Six teams will make the playoffs in the PWHL this season. It would appear at first glance that each has a loaded roster. That should make for an exciting race to secure a berth in the postseason.

It also will put a premium on team chemistry. New York is hopeful that Daoust’s team-building strategy will pay major dividends when all is said and done.

“We can all agree that if there’s a work environment we go to every day that we truly enjoy being in and feel that we’re cared about, that we’re learning and growing on a daily basis, then anything is possible, whether you’re the most skilled team or not even the most skilled team,” Draper said. “It’s so critical when you’re building something brand new.”

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